Soft Power & Global Ambition: The Case of China’s Growing Reach in Europe
This paper argues that Chinese state-owned enterprises and financial instruments facilitate China’s exercise of soft power and the execution of its grand strategy. Chinese investments provide an increasingly dense network of commercial links through which China extends the scope and reach of its influence and projection of power in a manner that has implications for the international system. In the process, countries in different regions of the world increasingly feel economically ‘beholden’ to China, seeding the development of entirely new classes of client-state relationships. China’s growing reach into Europe is no exception. The financial crisis of 2008 exposed vulnerabilities in Europe’s southern and eastern flanks and provided optimal conditions for the accelerated pace of China’s investments in strategic infrastructure and sensitive technologies.
Today, these vulnerabilities undermine European cohesion, exacerbate historical fault lines, and contribute to conditions of instability which in turn dramatically influence EU policy, particularly with respect to its “Near Neighborhood” and Southern European members. Today, China is invested in strategically positioned ports along Europe’s Mediterranean rim and Atlantic shore, and established its first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017. These and other investments, extending from Europe through Central Asia and to the Pacific, are connected by a vast network of marine and land links that form part of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. Current geopolitical conditions are optimal for China to advance in power, prestige, and legitimacy. China’s rise comes at a particularly difficult period of fracture among the transatlantic allies and general crisis of confidence in the West. China’s rise and the expression of its soft power through commercial and investment conduits in Europe have stretched the country’s influence from the Pacific, through the heart of the Western alliance, to face the United States on the Atlantic Ocean. China is at the gates and seeks accommodation. This brings significant challenges to the Western liberal order, and with it, the international system itself.